Mobile Banking and Customer Adoption in Tanzania

Emmanuel Ndosi, store owner, client of Accion partner Akiba, Tanzania

Emmanuel Ndosi, store owner, client of Accion partner Akiba, Tanzania

Can technology like mobile banking replace bank staff to more efficiently deliver financial services to the underserved? Futuristic fintech trends belie a simple truth in emerging markets: technology can enable and accelerate improvements, but in the end it is a tool whose efficacy depends on how it is wielded, both by its creators and by its users. There’s a tough reality that some of the best-funded and brightest microfinance institutions (MFIs) and fintech startups know quite well: change is extremely difficult. You could spend years designing the “perfect” financial service, but a) if you design it in a vacuum it won’t get adopted; and b) if you don’t communicate its values to its intended beneficiaries, they won’t benefit.

Before MFIs can roll out targeted campaigns promoting new products, they need to be clear themselves on what they’re offering and why it’s valuable. Staff buy-in is equally as important as customer education, and the two go hand in hand.

Start small – and think big

To see how change can be difficult even in the best of cases, let’s take a look at Accion’s partner in Tanzania, Akiba Commercial Bank. Accion’s Channels & Technology (C&T) team worked with Akiba to launch a mobile banking service, ACB Mobile, in 2013, hoping to use the platform to improve customer service and reduce operating costs. Akiba did many of the right things: surveying customers to determine needs, designing a mobile service leveraging technology to increase convenience and cut costs, and investing resources to train staff and advertise the service. But again, change is difficult. Since its launch in 2013, ACB Mobile is only being used by 28% of Akiba’s customers. So there’s room for improvement – both in terms of raw users and their activity on the platform – especially in a country where mobile penetration is 67%.

Mobile banking marketing material from ACB Mobile at an Akiba branch in Tanzania

ACB Mobile marketing material at an Akiba branch.

In early 2015, Akiba began to focus on improving their mobile banking service, as well as increasing active customer adoption, and asked Accion to return to Tanzania for support. To kick off this work, we surveyed Akiba’s customers and were surprised by the results. Two years after the service launched, many customers were unaware that the service existed, or they were confused about the relationship between their bank account and mobile money accounts, wondering, “why their bank wants to offer the same services as a mobile money provider.” Although the prevalence of mobile wallets in Tanzania allows people to affect easy peer-to-peer transfers, to some extent for several Akiba clients, this appeared to obscure the greater possibilities and additional value that mobile banking could offer. ACB Mobile, for example, offers a range of transactional services beyond peer-to-peer that clients were unaware of or didn’t know how to use.

Mobile money has tremendously improved the quality of life and broadened financial inclusion for millions of people, especially across East Africa where it was born. Now it’s time to take the next step in mobile money by adding depth to the financial services that a customer can access and use via mobile – and making sure they know all about it. Akiba is actively taking that step.

Nevertheless, our findings revealed that while promoting ACB Mobile, Akiba had assumed its “customers know all about mobile wallets,” and therefore its early marketing material prioritized enrolling customers more so than educating them about ACB Mobile’s additional qualities. As a result, there was no clear reason to use the platform regularly. Despite understanding the importance of customer education – as Akiba did – there’s still a learning curve for tech adoption, for which a human touch is still important to drive awareness.

Streamline and enhance the service

In 2015, Accion C&T worked with Akiba to educate customers and redesign ACB Mobile to make the service easier to use and understand. We clarified for customers that they could use ACB mobile to conduct many different financial transactions, not just send and receive money. We also articulated another selling point: ACB Mobile is interoperable, meaning that, it doesn’t matter which mobile provider the client uses, among the top three in Tanzania. For example, a customer like Emmanuel Ndosi (pictured above) could make loan payments by transferring funds from his mobile wallet to his Akiba bank account using the service, without needing to visit a bank branch, thus saving time and money to better run his shop. He could also make utility payments or deposit savings through the bank in the same manner.

We also streamlined the bank’s policies and procedures to make mobile registration of customers easy and automatic for staff. Staff buy-in is a prerequisite to drive customer education and adoption – if staff don’t understand or see value in using the service, they won’t promote it to their customers.

Mobile banking menu layout for Akiba

Mockup of new mobile banking menu.

Train the trainers

The final piece of the adoption strategy was to educate staff and customers on the enhanced service. We took a train-the-trainers approach, and found that in simulated training exercises, Akiba staff at first focused too narrowly on explaining basic logistics, e.g. how to use the service, while neglecting to explain the benefits, e.g. ‘why should I bother to use the service, how is it useful to me?’ We refocused training content and techniques to emphasize the benefits of increased convenience and cost savings.

This approach worked. As one Customer Service Officer explained, “The training gives us the motivation to emphasize the use of our mobile phone services to the customer.” Another loan officer noted, “Akiba should invest heavily in this project since increased usage will lead to the growth of the bank in terms of deposits and save queuing time to cater to the needs of more customers.”

Mobile banking customer adoption training for Akiba staff.

Akiba staff training.

Leverage the power of peers

Once staff had been trained and were excited about the service, they had the skills and motivation to educate customers. We then went one step further, driving the creation of a Peer Leaders program, whereby influential community members are trained as informal brand ambassadors – someone whom other customers feel comfortable approaching for help, aspire to emulate, and are likely to listen to.

Studies have shown that peers can play an important role in influencing the behavior of members of a group for decisions about financial services and pretty much anything else that’s important to them. We at Accion had previously worked with Swadhaar, our bank partner in Mumbai leveraging these social behaviors to develop a Peer Leader program for using a mobile wallet, and the pilot showed promising results.

As part of the trainings at Akiba, we held a customer focus group, and participants validated the peer educator concept, which Akiba is now integrating into their ACB mobile enhancement plans.

As Israel Chasosa, CEO of Akiba, sums up, “It’s great being able to hear new ideas and best practices from other countries and regions on how to drive active usage of mobile banking. Accion’s Channels & Technology team has been providing valuable exchange and strategic, hands-on support. It’s critical for us to bring value to our clients with continuous innovation of our mobile banking channel and especially respond to demand for secure savings. This service is truly helping Akiba increase its portfolio which is critical to our growth.”


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